A Mediterranean-style diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes and cereals, and low in red meat and sugar. Instead of regular consumption of red meat, this diet opts for oily fish. The diet also largely cuts out alcohol, sugar and saturated fats. According to research in the 1960s, men from Mediterranean regions who followed a traditional diet had much lower rates of heart attacks than those in other regions of the same age with more western diets. Researchers have continued to review these rates over the years to investigate the long term health effects of this diet and have found that there were significantly lower levels of stroke, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and slower rates of decline in memory and thinking. Researchers say a Mediterranean-style diet can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by helping cleanse the brain.
How does a Mediterranean diet affect dementia risk?
The brain requires certain nutrients to stay healthy to ensure it can build and repair brain cells, reduce cellular stress and inflammation – all processes that are directly linked to brain aging. Mediterranean diets include a lot of fruits and vegetables, which have high levels of antioxidants, which may help protect against some of the damage to brain cells associated with Alzheimer’s as well as increasing the levels of proteins in the brain that protect against brain cell damage. There is also the belief that this diet can contribute to reducing inflammation. Lower levels of cholesterol, which have been linked to this diet, has in recent research shown to be associated with memory and thinking problems.
Dr. Lisa Mosconi, an associate professor of Neuroscience in Neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College, commented on the effects of a Mediterranean-style diet on the brain; “We’re seeing these changes only in parts of the brain specifically affected by Alzheimer’s, and in relatively young adults. It all points to the way we eat putting us at risk for Alzheimer’s down the line. If your diet isn’t balanced, you really need to make an effort to fix it, if not for your body, then for your brain”.
Mediterranean diet and gut health
Researchers in separate studies say diets such as the Mediterranean diet can increase the type of gut microbiome associated with healthy aging. According to Healthline, the two studies published found that a diet high in plants and low in animal products can influence gut bacteria that can cause the onset of frailty in older people as well as increase the risk of coronary heart disease.
In our previous blog, we discussed the link between gut health and dementia. You can read it here – https://livewell.care/the-link-between-gut-health-and-dementia/
Mediterranean diet recipe
The Mediterranean diet isn’t difficult to follow – it’s delicious and has a wide variety. To get you started, we’ve included a delicious recipe shared by Jane Bisset, the Founder and Head Chef at We Are Food. Take a look at her Italian braised beans with tomato & rosemary recipe here – https://livewell.care/a-mediterranean-diet-recipe-that-is-healthy-for-your-brain/
Nutrition at Livewell
People with dementia often lack good nutrition, especially if they are not in a specialised dementia and Alzheimer’s care facility, as they tend to have difficulties with mealtimes; such as their ability to master cutlery or remembering when to eat. At Livewell, each meal is carefully considered and lovingly prepared with the individual residents in mind, and if a resident requests a particular dish the kitchen staff and chef will happily make it for them. Emphasis is placed on the diet, ensuring it is nutritious, rich in variety, colour, textures, and familiar to the resident. The Mediterranean diet can be implemented into their meal plan, as long as special consideration is given to the nutritional requirements of older people according to their individual activity levels, their ability to safely chew and swallow solid foods, and the types of food that people using dentures can comfortably eat.